Exploring the world's built environments and seeking sustainable solutions.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Odense: Bike City Denmark?

We visit Odense each year on our sustainability tour, not so much because of their sustainable technologies or new developments, but because they have transformed their transportation infrastructure into a bike-first system, and for the gracious, inter-connected system of green spaces, parks, rivers and creeks that dot the city-scape. Each year, the city plays host to 30 of us, lending us their city bikes (which are of great quality), and leading us on a wonderful bike tour in and around the city. This year’s tour included all of the bike system facilities (various parking options, different types of on street and off street paths, cycle lighting and signage, cycle signals, cycle counters, air pumps, stairway ramps and other conveniences), plus many highlights of the park system including the river, and a new landfill park at the edge of the city along its port/canal. The landfill park is particularly impressive as one of the first of its kind in Denmark and a place for mountain biking, hiking, sledding (in summer!), picnics, walking, kids play areas and wildlife observation. We were hosted this year by Nanna Enriques and Dora of the city, who were generous, helpful, and very knowledgeable about how the city promotes and facilitates bike travel for all of its citizens, young and old. They even brought us coffee, tea and cakes to the landfill park as we relaxed during our bike ride.

The key elements in a bicycle system that goes beyond novelty and beyond recreation are: (1) a land use pattern and densities that make bike travel possible; (2) an inter-connected system of facilities that really think through origins and destinations; (3) facilities that overcome perceived or actual obstacles (like train tracks and highways); (4) convenience, safety and clear routes and signage; and (5) marketing and promotion that educates the residents and visitors about biking and makes it fun and important to ride to work, school or play.

The Odense bike system and park system may not be the best in the world (or maybe not even the best in Denmark – just ask the bike planners in Copenhagen!), but for this modest sized city without a lot of new development or new economic activity, it is impressive and keeps us coming back to learn, enjoy a bike ride, and appreciate the kindness and generous spirit of the city.

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